• Chelsea Ross Photography
  • Austin Wulliman

Violinist Austin Wulliman is one of the busiest figures in Chicago’s bustling contemporary classical music scene these days, working endlessly as a member of envelope-pushing groups like Spektral Quartet and Ensemble Dal Niente, in addition to countless, unnamed short-term collaborations. On Friday night at Defibrillator Gallery he’ll show off another such partnership, although this one has quietly been developing for a year. “Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight” is a project he’s been working on with bassoonist and composer Katherine Young that on its surface features three works for solo violin, another for solo viola, and a final work for violin and chamber orchestra, but in reality, there’s more to it, although I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the methodology myself.

According to the project’s press release, “Employing amplification to bring out small sounds, Young will control the soundworld’s mix, manipulate samples live, and work with a detuned electric guitar.” The work is described, in part, as a sound installation, because the live instrumentalists will be playing with an eight-channel sound mix. A sound file that Wulliman shared with me—which will be used as the foundation for his improvisation in the piece’s first movement—suggests a mix of indistinct friction, close-miked breathing, and high-pitched squeaks, while a rough mix of a rehearsal of the viola piece is marked by Wulliman’s astringent, double-stopped lines, ringing harmonics, and percussive thwacks over an ominous, undulating industrial hum. Another solo piece is packed with manic pizzicati, played on a prepared violin, an ornate tangle of live and pretaped snaps, plucks, and plinks that add up to something simultaneously claustrophobic and extroverted.

Below you can check out an earlier version of the chamber piece, recorded in May at Northwestern University, where the tactile, improvised lines of Wulliman deliver a spine-tingling, provocative relationship with the chamber sounds, flush with extended technique and strident textures. Note, however, that this piece has been steadily developing and I’m betting that the version presented Friday will bear only scant similarity to this version, especially considering the immersive qualities of the multichannel setup.

For this performance the ensemble will feature some of the city’s boldest instrumentalists: conductor Michael Lewanski, violist Doyle Armbrust, saxophonist Ryan Muncy, oboist Andrew Nogal, violinist Aurelien Pederzoli, percussionists Robert Dillon and Sean Connors, and electronic musician Daniel Dehaan, among others. The sound installation component of the project will remain up on Saturday, from 2-6 PM.

Today’s playlist:

Joe Sanders, Introducing (Criss Cross)
Bérangère Maximin, No One is an Island (Sub Rosa)
The Cure, Seventeen Seconds (Elektra/Rhino)
Jesper Løvdal & Günter Baby Sommer, Jesper Løvdal & Günter Baby Sommer (ILK)
Afrirampo, Suuto Breakor (P-Vine/Blues Interactions)